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Capture of Christopher Boyce


On August 21, 1981, at approximately 8:20 p.m., Christopher John Boyce, escaped Federal prisoner and convicted Soviet spy, was arrested by a U.S. Marshals Service Task Force assisted by FBI agents. This arrest in the small town of Port Angeles, Washington, ended the most extensive and complex manhunt in the history of the Service in the 1980's.

Escorting escaped Federal fugitive Christopher Boyce from the U.S. Courthouse in Seattle.
Escorting escaped Federal fugitive Christopher Boyce from the U.S. Courthouse in Seattle.

The investigation began in the late evening hours of January 21, 1980, when Christopher Boyce, with the help of fellow inmates, hid in a drainage hole, used a makeshift ladder and tin snips to cut through a barbed wire perimeter and escaped from the Lompoc Correctional Institution in Lompoc, California. Boyce was serving a 40-year sentence for espionage. He had been convicted of passing top secret satellite technology information to the Soviets along with a co-defendant, Andrew Daulton Lee. The publicity surrounding the trial of Boyce and Lee was worldwide and resulted in a bestselling book about the exploits of "The Falcon and The Snowman."

Boyce hid in this cramped drainage hole for over three hours prior to his escape
Boyce hid in this cramped drainage hole for over three hours prior to his escape. His legs went to sleep and almost prevented his escape.
Part 2

Boyce was dubbed the Falcon because of his hobby of falconry, and Lee the Snowman because of his numerous brushes with the law as a cocaine trafficker.

Boyce escorted from the Courthouse
Boyce leaving the Courthouse for Snohomish County Jail

The escape of Boyce occurred just three months after the Attorney General had transferred primary jurisdiction for the apprehension of escaped Federal prisoners from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the United States Marshals Service. Boyce was the first "high profile" escapee that the Service had to deal with. Over the next 19 months investigations involved almost every district in the district in the United States, as well as a host of foreign countries, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada, France and South Africa. Over 800 interviews were conducted, hundreds of investigative leads pursued and scores of "sightings" followed up and eliminated.

In early August 1981, the first major break in the case developed, based on information that Boyce was probably in the northwest Washington State area. A special task force was formed on August 1, comprised of 19 Marshals Service Inspectors and Deputies, eight FBI agents and an agent from the U.S. Border Patrol.

Twenty-four hour surveillance was maintained at various locations and Deputy U.S. Marshals assumed undercover roles, blending into community as as loggers, fishermen, waitresses, etc. Fruitful investigative leads had been developed and pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.

Marshals Service Investigators, with FBI assistance, located a driver's license photo, handwriting samples, and bank surveillance photos indicating that Boyce might be supporting himself by robbing banks.


Part 3

The task force began focusing on Port Angeles, Washington, based on information they had developed that Boyce was living in that city. Four surveillance teams were formed: one to cover the hotels and apartment houses, two "rolling teams" to search for a vehicle suspected to be used by Boyce, and another team to serve as backup to make routine patrols.

Mug shot of Christopher Boyce

Inquiries at local supermarkets on Friday morning, August 21, produced several witnesses who, through photographs, identified Boyce as having recently purchased some beer at the store.

Later that evening surveillance teams began to monitor an area between several locations that Boyce was suspected to frequent. One surveillance unit drove through the parking lot of a small eatery in Port Angeles, the "Pit Stop Restaurant and Drive-In," but, since no one resembling Boyce seemed to be in the area, they decided to search elsewhere and return to the restaurant later in the evening.


Part 4

At approximately 8:30 p.m. the unit returned to the "Pit Stop", where Deputies observed a lone male seated in the only car parked in the lot. The man inside the car looked up, and the surveillance team immediately recognized him as the fugitive they had been seeking for 19 months.

Boyce was arrested in this vehicle

Back-up units were requested and quickly moved into position, one parking immediately adjacent to Boyce's late-model Oldsmobile. The long awaited order, 'Let's do it!" went out at last, and, with weapons drawn, five U .S. Marshals Service investigators, accompanied by two FBI agents, surrounded the car and made the arrest without incident.

Boyce was then taken to the Task Force Command Post while arrangements were made for a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to transport him to Seattle, Washington. Approximately two hours later, the Command Post received the message, "C. P., the Falcon's aloft!"

Prior to his escape, Boyce had 37 years remaining on his original sentence.

The apprehension of the "Falcon" is a tribute to the relentless efforts of Marshals Service personnel, whose dedication will serve as an inspiration to their colleagues.